British media laps up Lynton.

His tactics mightn’t be pretty – but they’re pretty effective. Former Liberal party federal director Lynton Crosby has had a big run in the British meeja for his work for the Conservative Party as an election draws ever closer.

The Labor leaning Daily Mirror tabloid managed to turn a few pars from The Guardian profile on Thursday into an “EXCLUSIVE” on Saturday.

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“A sinister new election guru hired by Tory leader Michael Howard exploited the murder of a teenage girl to win votes in his native Australia.

“Lynton Crosby sparked a huge outcry after using the horrific stabbing of Cheree Richardson in the 1992 TV advertising blitz.

“The Liberal Party campaign said Australia’s Labour Party had ‘the blood of the victim on their hands’.

“It had to be abandoned after complaints from her family.

“Mr Crosby, 48, has been blasted for his hard-hitting campaigns on race and crime…”

There were High Tory sneers at Crosby’s positioning of Conservative leader Michael Howard – the son of Jewish refugees from the Nazis – on race and immigration over at The Sunday Telegraph, the party’s paper of choice.

“Howard is no racist. But this was an error,” Matthew d’Ancona wrote.

“Does Lynton Crosby exist? There are certainly those at Conservative Party headquarters, jealous of his influence, who wish that he did not, and were hoping that Michael Howard’s General Election Campaign Director would not return from his Christmas visit to his native Australia. The name Lynton Crosby always makes me think of a minor and infrequently serviced village station in Yorkshire, as in: ‘This service will not stop at Lynton Crosby. All passengers for Lynton Crosby should alight at Scarborough, and take the special bus provided…

“The Australian strategist insists fiercely that he believes that the Tories can win. But his prescription suggests a conviction that damage limitation is the best Mr Howard can hope for now.”

D’Ancona was writing after a Telegraph/ICM poll put support for Labour on 37 per cent, five per cent ahead of the Conservatives on 32 per cent, with the Liberal Democrats on 21 per cent. The survey put the Tories up one point and Labour down one since the last ICM poll, taken before Howard’s promise to limit immigration last week.

The left-leaning quality Independent on Sunday, however, suggested Crosby’s tactic had left Tony Blair rattled.

“Labour plays its own race card to trump Tory migration plan,” Andy McSmith and Francis Elliott wrote on its front page.

“Tony Blair will steal Michael Howard’s key policy when he launches Labour’s own crackdown on illegal immigration next week, The Independent on Sunday has learnt.

“The Prime Minister has insisted that an Australian-style points system to grade would-be migrants seeking a new life in Britain is included in a raft of measures. The deportation of thousands of failed asylum-seekers will also be made a top priority. Labour fears that Mr Howard scored a direct hit with the electorate when he launched the Conservatives’ policies on asylum and immigration last week.

“Mr Blair’s nervousness over the issue will increase today as a poll conducted for this newspaper shows two-fifths of voters could switch allegiance over the issue…”

The Independent’s poll had Labour up one on 40 per cent, the Conservatives down two on 32 per cent and the Liberal Democrats up one to 20 per cent, with support for other parties – including the “I’m not racist, but…” UK Independence Party and the overtly anti-immigrant British National Party – unchanged on eight per cent.

Still, it warned of volatility in the electorate – 37 per cent of those surveyed agreed with the statement: “I would vote for the Liberal Democrats if they had a realistic chance of winning in my constituency”. Under Britain’s first past the post electoral system, that would give the LibDems a shot to form their first government since World War I.

A third poll, in The Observer, claims Howard is “the most unpopular opposition leader approaching a general election since Michael Foot,” the Worzel Gummidge look-alike who lead Labour to disaster in 1983.

As we have observed before, New Labour is a tarnished brand – but Blair remains a master salesman and an expert in claiming the middle ground.

Lynton Crosby, however, is a down and dirty fighter.

Throw in UKIP, throw in the LibDems and we are looking at the most interesting British elections since John Major confounded the pundits back in 1992.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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